“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation [had his son vaccinated]. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”
Benjamin Franklin, His Autobiography: 1706-1757 (National Academies Press, 2004).
There was a time in the not so distant past that the germ theory of disease was not understood. Disease and illnesses at one time were thought to be the result of the wrath of gods, ill fortune, or bad luck. Girolamo Fracastoro first proposed the germ theory in 1546, and Marcus von Plenciz continued the work in 1762. Most of these ideas were not accepted and held in disdain until the Golden Age of Microbiology in the mid to late 1800’s. It was during the time of Pasteur’s work with the puerperal fever and Koch’s further work that the formal relationship between organism and illness began to take hold. It is important to for health care workers to remember these facts. These individuals were on the leading edge of knowledge for their time as healthcare professionals are now, but every day is a new day with the possible discovery of new infectious agents. HIV was not on anyone’s radar in 1980, but within a few years, it was a household word that struck fear worldwide. We can never know what new infection, epidemic, or pandemic is on the horizon. What we do know is how to break the chain of infection by using proven and standardized precautions for the benefit of both health care workers and patients.